Birthdays and Bigotry

Life, PhD and poetry: that’s what this blog aims to explore, and this week all three have had a piece of me.

It was Bill’s birthday on Monday. On Sunday we went into Oldham to see ‘Darkest Hour’ and then went for a meal after the film. Gary Oldman was indeed wonderful as Churchill. The great man wasn’t a favourite of mine: too many disastrous political decisions in his career; but he was the man for the job when Great Britain lived under the Nazi threat. And oh my, the power of words. His speeches brought tears to my eyes. A film to see for sure; and we saw it in the very room where Churchill was first chosen to represent Oldham as an MP, back in 1900. The old Town Hall is now a multiscreen Odeon cinema.

I know, I said Bill’s birthday was on Monday and we celebrated on Sunday. That’s because Monday was taken up with ‘other stuff’. I saw him for about an hour in the morning and not again until 9.00 at night. I went out for my run on Monday morning; except I didn’t run. It was sleeting quite hard so I settled for the treadmill at the gym. But it took me half an hour to drive about four miles, still only half way to the gym. The traffic was awful for some reason: perhaps there had been an incident on the M62 or something. Anyway, I got to the roundabout in Shaw, about halfway to the gym, drove all the way around the roundabout and went home again; no running. Because I had to be at Amie’s for 10.00 for a morning’s dog-sitting. I spent the morning submitting some poems to various venues. After a long dog-walk up the fairly steep lane behind Amie’s house, I left at 12.30 to collect Hilary. We were meeting Polly Atkinson in Propertea in Manchester to plan a poetry break in May.

There used to be five of us planning these poetry breaks once; but two members of the group fell away for various reasons, so now just the three of us. We eventually agreed on a holiday cottage along the east coast between Filey and Scarborough. It’s booked. We are going in May, immediately after the Poets and Players competition celebration event: we didn’t want to miss Pascale Petit. One to look forward to, then, with close access to York, Whitby, Robin Hood’s Bay: there’s no end to the inspiration we can find.

After the planning meeting, Hilary and I went for afternoon tea at Patisserie Valerie to use the Groupon we couldn’t use a couple of weeks ago, then we walked to Chapter One Books in the Northern Quarter for The Group. There were six of us at The Group this week, with some wonderful writing to discuss. I took ‘Alysoun’, my alternative mother poem about the Wife of Bath. It was well received. There were some brilliant poems discussed; and a further instalment of the teacher meeting her teacher in a pub. It was a good evening discussing writing with very pleasant and like-minded people.

We took the tram home to Oldham. A homeless man approached us on the platform at Victoria and asked for some change for a cup of tea. We both gave him some. I didn’t expect thanks for this, but he was very grateful. He said mental health issues had caused him to lose his home and he just wanted to be warm: it was indeed a very cold night. What I also didn’t expect, from a woman who was also waiting for the tram, was a lecture on why we shouldn’t give to ‘them’ because ‘they all’ get together at the end of the day to share the takings and then go home to their comfortable houses. Patronisingly, she suggested we were targeted because we look like a soft touch, two grey-haired old ladies who daren’t say ‘no’. I think we were targeted because he could smell the prejudice of other people there, perhaps. I tried to engage her in a conversation about charity, but bigots are difficult to reason with. So I was silently seething on the tram. It was 9.00 before I got home, and I could at last celebrate Bill’s birthday with him. I took him the cakes we didn’t eat at our afternoon tea; and a bottle of Chablis to toast his unbelievable age! Oh, and did I tell you, I’ve booked train tickets to Glasgow for Monday; with afternoon tea in the Willow Tea Rooms on Buchanan Street. The tea rooms were designed by one of his architect heroes, Charles Rennie Macintosh, so we’ll have Monday together, albeit a week late!

On Tuesday I was back at Amie’s for dog-sitting duties. Her partner, Angus, is in Canada on a snow-boarding holiday with brothers and friends; the dogs are missing him, so I’m helping out while Amie is at work. Oh my, they are gorgeous; and energetic. I took my work with me and had a productive day on the thesis. I have doubled the word count this week. I’m still not happy with it, but I’m working on it and that’s what matters. After a long dog-walk at lunchtime, I thought again about that woman at Victoria and I got my revenge in a poem. She became the latest ‘alternative mother’ in my sequence. That poem was very cathartic: I’ll post it at the end of this blog. That kind of prejudice needs calling out.

On Wednesday morning I did go out to run. It was a lovely, bright morning, and it was light enough to go out at 7.30. But, oh my, it was cold. It was -6*C on Saddleworth. I ran along the track of the Delph Donkey again. All the puddles had thick ice on them, so at least I didn’t get muddy. But I could have had dental surgery without anaesthetic: by the time I got back to my car my face was numb, my tongue was numb; and my chest was wheezy from breathing in the cold air. I am an historical sufferer of asthma: I haven’t needed an inhaler for years; I could have done with one on Wednesday morning. But I ran; and I ran two lots of 5 minutes and one 8 minute slot. When I think of that New Year run when I felt as if I was dying after running spurts of 1 minute, I can see how the stamina is building. It feels good, as if I’m achieving something I didn’t think I could do. On Friday I ran again, but on the treadmill this time. It was sleeting quite hard when I went out to run, and after the downpour for most of Thursday I didn’t think the Donkey track was a good idea. The good news is, I ran for two spurts of 8 minutes each. I surprise myself every time I go!

On Thursday, my copy of the ‘Mind’ anthology Please Hear What I’m Not Saying arrived in the post. It has some brilliant poems addressing mental health issues and is on sale to raise funds for mental health charities. You can get a copy here, if you would like to buy in order to contribute:

https://www.amazon.com/Please-Hear-What-Not-Saying/dp/1984006649/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1517601752&sr=1-2&keywords=please+hear+what+im+not+saying

If you do buy, make sure you get the latest (2018) anthology though; there is also a 2011 copy of the same name on sale as well.

Saturday was another PhD day. I worked some more on the thesis on Saturday. I’m still not happy with it; I need to take time to really think out what it is I’m wanting to say; what point am I trying to make? At the moment it feels too much like a poetry review and not an academic piece; not academic enough, anyway. I’ll keep chipping away and eventually it will be what I want it to be. It’s a hard task-master, this PhD thing. Its whip is soft but relentless!

Anyway, here is the poem I wrote about the woman at Victoria. I hate bigotry in all its manifestations. She had a willing audience in another man who was on the periphery of the group waiting for the tram. He was agreeing with her, giving her permission to be a bigot, so she aired her views loud and clear. There was no reasoning with her; and I resent the assumption that because I have grey hair I need someone ‘sensible’ like her to warn me. What use is money unless you can do some good with it? Any one of us could be reduced to the need to ask for a brew; thankfully up to now, I haven’t had to: but I will be sympathetic to anyone who asks a cup of tea of me. Here’s my ‘own back’:

 

Alternative Mothers no. 13

That Woman Waiting For The Rochdale Tram At Victoria

The poor only have themselves to blame,
you say. Workshy. Scroungers.
It’s true, you say.
But what about the homeless, I ask.

They’re not homeless, you say, they’re immigrants
coming over here taking our jobs.
After Brexit there won’t be any immigrants

 you say. Farage and Johnson’ll send ‘em all home.
They’re good blokes, you say, they’re one of us.
I say, they’re not one of us, Ma, well
they’re not one of me. I say

Q: How do you know when a Leave campaigner’s lying,
A: Their lips are moving.
You don’t laugh.
You cuff my ear instead.

A homeless man on the platform tells me
he has mental health issues,
asks for the price of a brew—
he doesn’t read the tabloids Ma, I say, he wraps
his body in them to keep himself warm,
he wipes his arse on the Mail.

I just want to be warm, he says. I give him some cash
but you say all the Manchester ‘’homeless’’—
you actually manage to pronounce the quotation marks—
they all get together at the end of the day to share the takings
then go home to their comfortable houses.
You’ve seen them on the tram, going home, you say.

But what about charity, I ask.
Charity begins at home, you say.
But what if you’re homeless, I ask.
I start singing there’s a hole in my bucket.
You pick up today’s copy of the Daily Mail.

Rachel Davies
February 2018

 

 

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